Hide your kids, hide your bikes: bike theft an epidemic in San Francisco

Using environmentally-friendly transportation is becoming a widely-accepted trend, but what happens if being green leads to losing up to thousands of dollars of property?

SFSU Bike Barn

A student rides his bike into the SF State Bike Barn located behind the GYM on Aug. 26, 2011 Photo by Nelson Estrada.

In 2010, San Francisco was deemed the fourth worst city in the country for bicycle theft by the bicycle lock company Kryptonite. In the past month alone, there were 29 bicycle thefts on campus alone, and many more city-wide.

“Bicycle theft is becoming an epidemic in San Francisco,” said Mission Station Police Inspector Steven Pomatto. “Right now I have 40 cases on my desk of stolen bicycles worth over $1,000.”

The bicycle theft trend has had a large effect on students and other members of the SF State campus.

“I’ve had two bikes stolen,” said SF State Humanities Professor Sean Connelly. “I came into school for just a second. I was gone 20 minutes and it was gone. I was not using a U-Lock, just a regular chain lock.”

Though the benefits of riding a bicycle are numerous, Pomatto said riders must educate themselves about the risks of unsafe storage.

Out in the city, Pomatto described bicycle theft from garages and apartment lobbies as “very common” and urged bicycle owners to make sure no one is loitering close by when leaving home.

“Someone who’s a dirty bike thief will watch the garage until it opens and see if there are any bikes in it, then stand next to the door and kick it open as soon as you leave,” Pomatto said. “If you live in an apartment, let your garage door shut completely before you pull away.”

He also cautioned against locking a bicycle to a stop sign or tree because thieves will cut them down regardless.

“Criminals are opportunistic and will strike whenever the opportunity arises,” said San Francisco Police Officer Albie Esparza. “(Bicycle theft) occurs frequently and we ask that bicycle owners take precautions to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Esparza urges bicyclists to pay attention to how they lock up.

“A lot of times (people will) lock up the frame and their wheels will get stolen,” Esparza said. “We recommend a chain that goes around the wheel.”

With so many locks available for bicycle owners, it can be difficult to know which are most effective.

“I always tell (customers), ‘If you love your bike, get a U-Lock’,” said Tommy Nguyen, an avid bicyclist and employee at Mike’s Bikes in SoMa. “Riders should also register their bikes online when they buy a lock, because U-Lock and On Guard will refund you some of the money for your bike if it gets stolen.”

University Police Deputy Reginald Parson said that he recommends students on campus to lock their bicycles in the Bike Barn, which has room for 350 bicycles and is located behind the gym. He also suggests that students read the informational pamphlets available online and in the police office next to the library Annex.

Parson also said that bicycles are most frequently stolen from Hensill and Thornton halls, usually on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

If your bicycle does get stolen, Esparza recommends having its serial numbers available when filing a report.

“Otherwise we won’t be able to pair up an owner with the report,” Esparza said. “It will make it challenging to find out who it belongs to.”

Though bicycle theft is common, Tim Blumenthal, president of the bicycle advocacy group Bikes Belong, urges San Franciscans to keep biking despite the risk.

“San Francisco leaders have recognized that when people ride bikes, great things happen,” Blumenthal said.

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